Leale didn’t begin rapping with the intention of selling out stadiums, or getting big record deals, or getting millions of downloads.
Her creative spark came from something much more personal, and much more tragic: the death of her grandfather to cancer. Leale was 12 at the time.
“As a kid, you don’t really know how to deal with things like that,” Leale, a junior business administration major, said. “Writing my feelings just made sense, just writing them down because I didn’t feel like talking to people and having them ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at me… it turned into poetry, and I realized I really had a knack for it.”
Leale’s vulnerable poems evolved into eight bars, then 10 bars and then, eventually, full tracks in the style of music her friends and siblings all listened to: rap. Her solitary “venting on paper” turned into a two-year-long writing process. During that time, Leale kept her raps close to her chest.
At age 16, though, Leale put her self-doubt aside and shared her music on social media. Today, her TiTok following is approaching 300,000. One of her viral raps about the Buffalo Bills even landed her on Channel 2, Channel 4 and several podcasts.
Her short clips, freestyles and trendy videos garnered attention on thousands of “for you pages,” but Leale wanted more. She wanted to release real music.
Leale dropped several singles and an EP, “Truthful Execution.” She was finally releasing full songs, but Leale’s Internet fame came at a price, one that she quickly brushes off her shoulders.While attending Olean High School, some classmates made sly comments.
“That’s what happens when people step outside of the box,” Leale said. “They’re always going to have something to say.”
But messages from the people who’d found her music made it easy to tune out the hate.
“There are people messaging me, ‘You really saved my day.’ I save people’s lives. That’s hard for me to say because it’s hard to even believe,” Leale said. “So if somebody at school is making fun of me, why would I even care?”
The up-and-coming rapper’s recognizability motivates her to keep going. Snide remarks are the result of notoriety, but so is the UPS delivery man who passed her in Elmwood Village and told her he loves her music.
Although Leale’s larger-than-life dreams seem within grasp, not everyone is as excited as the young rapper. Her parents, despite their support of their daughter, worry about the scale of her ambition.
“It’s hard to see your kid chase a dream like this,” Leale said. “I’m in rooms with a lot of big people, a lot of people older than me. I’m a young female in the world of hip hop. It’s a vulnerable situation, and they see how driven I am about it. I think it scares them.”
Her parents’ fears aren’t entirely unfounded. Leale says that at ages 17 and 18 she ran into situations where others tried to take advantage of her. She sees having “a chip on your shoulder” as a necessity in this industry.
“You never really know what people are trying to use you for, especially as a woman,” Leale said. “They could say they’re interested in your music, but you don’t really know that’s the case.”
Leale says being a white female makes it challenging to establish herself in the genre. She has to constantly prove herself to her peers. When she walks into a room of other rappers, “nobody” is expecting her to rap.
“But it’s cool because when they do hear me rap, it’s like, ‘Oh, shoot! She can rap!”
Even though Leale’s head is full of daydreams about all the possibilities — selling out arenas, playing Spring Fest and touring everywhere from Australia to Bali — she continues chasing her passion in the present as a full-time student. She works on her craft at least once a day, whether it’s planning events, making flyers or reaching out to sponsors. She hopes her business studies will allow her to build her own brand.
Even with the demands of earning her degree, Leale always finds time to rap for an audience. Last week, Leale performed a 15-minute set for a packed Center for the Arts (CFA) Mainstage Theater as a part of UB Blackstone LaunchPad’s “Panasci.” She shared a spoken word piece, brought the heat with her lyricism, ran into the audience and hyped up the crowd with call-and-response chants.
Even with her TikTok fame and high-energy performances, Leale’s authenticity as an artist is at the heart of what she does. Following a “messy spring break” where she was “all over the place,” Leale headed straight to a studio session in Utica where she recorded a track called “Patience.”
“You have those times or people or things in your life that just take your patience too far,” Leale said on the song’s simple, relatable message.
Leale writes her own bars — no ghost writers necessary. She hopes her down-to-earth and real approach to rap will resonate with more listeners. This persona-less rapper is determined to shine for her lyrics and authenticity instead of cheap gimmicks.
“The world is gonna tell you loyalty is key,” Leale said. “But remember to be loyal to yourself. Because life’s gonna try and get you to change, get you to switch up, get you to do something that isn’t you.
“I want to prove that just by being who you are, and sticking to your story and finding what gives you peace, you can do anything you want.”
Alex Novak is an arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Novak is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.